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What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
19 Jan 2007
These recordings prove decisively a well-known thesis: more or less realistic productions always age better than so called innovative modern productions which often only aggrandize the clichés of the time of their conception if one views them a few decades after their première.
This doesn’t mean that ‘the next swan’ puts in an appearance in the Everding production at the Met ( brilliant lighting does the job) but the designs and costumes transfer us to Antwerp in the early middle ages. Exact dating of the opera is even possible: between 919 and 936, as those were the years Heinrich der Vögler was German king (though to be honest, the duchy of Brabant, where this reviewer is living, only got its name some 150 years later). Anyway, the Met production’s sets and costumes are roughly apt for the period and Elsa at least, wears some robes fit for a duke’s daughter instead of the same ugly colourless night gown Friedrich and his team thought fit for the Bayreuth production. Peter Hofmann too looks far better in his fine Met costumes than in the now hopelessly dated half knight/ half astronaut plastic (or is it metal ?) he has to wear in Germany. Friedrich probably had some ‘democratic’ problems with the king being graciously attended to, and so he has the singer seated on the steps of the stairs among all the other nobles. At the Met the king gets his throne during his hearing and the scene all at once doesn’t look ridiculous anymore. Time and again one sighs at Friedrich’s solutions and with relief one returns to Everding.
The Bayreuth production, however, has one distinct advantage over the Met’s. Four years and a lot of heavy Wagner roles later have taken their toll on Hofmann’s voice. The shine of it has somewhat disappeared and there is more strain in the high register. Granted, there is more refinement and some fine piannismi phrasing too at the Met, but these don’t quite compensate for the loss of vocal strength. This doesn’t mean the Bayreuth performance is perfect. After all this is Wagner’s most Italian opera and the recordings of De Lucia and Pertile prove what an Italian tenor could do with it. I sorely miss the ‘morbidezza’, the sweetness and sensuality, a good tenor can bring to the role, and next to Sandor Konya, Hofmann pales. Leif Roar too has not improved in the few years between the two recordings. In Bayreuth he is an impressive Telramund and he sings with the dark-burnished sound apt for the role. At the Met his singing is often crude and soon becomes barking before degenerating into shouting. Siegfried Vogel too at Bayreuth is vocally more impressive than the Met’s John Macurdy, who has some flat notes. Both Bernd Weikl and Anthony Raffell (a name unknown to me) sing a sturdy and strong Heerrufer. I don’t think nowadays both houses are still able to cast this small role with such outstanding talent.
On the ladies front, however, the Met wins hands down. Karan Armstrong is rather passive and colourless compared with the bigger and more creamy sound of Eva Marton. Elisabeth Connell is a South-African soprano and therefore can more easily cope with the high tessitura of the role but she is no match for the acting and the rich secure top of Leonie Rysanek, stunning at age 60.Woldemar Nelsson is a solid Kapellmeister but already at the prelude there is an aura of magic lacking. James Levine, with his long experience in German and especially Italian opera, immediately plunges into the mystery of the score and keeps it up till the end of the opera. The Met’s orchestra and chorus too are on the same level as the Bayreuth phalanx. As often one wishes one could take the best of these two worlds but in the end Levine, Marton and the production give the Met’s performance a slight edge.
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